“What was the hardest thing about making aliyah?” people still ask me. They expect, I imagine, that I’ll say something about our kids going to the army. Or about living in less than half the space we had in the United States.
But what’s been hardest has been watching the worldview on which I was raised crash and break like a ship washed violently against the shore. I was raised in one of those classic American Jewish suburban families. Democratic Party members, opposed to the Vietnam War, passionate advocates for civil rights. My parents taught their kids that most people were reasonable and that all conflicts were solvable. When it came to the Middle East, the prescription was clear — land would be given for peace. The only question was when.
A significant portion of Israeli society believed the same thing — until the Palestinian Terror War (mistakenly called the second intifada). Those years destroyed the Israeli left because they washed away any illusions Israelis might have had that the Palestinian leadership was interested in a deal.
And why should the Palestinians make a deal? Their position gets stronger each year. They have seen the world shift from denying their existence to giving them observer status at the United Nations. With the terms bound to get sweeter, only a fool would sign now.
Israelis live in a world of utter cognitive dissonance. Our region is becoming ever more dangerous and our foes ever more honest about their desire to destroy us. And yet, much of the world insists that “land for peace” must work; some American Jewish leaders urged Israel, even in the midst of the Gaza conflict, to return to the negotiating table.
That is why the upcoming election may prove important. Israelis across the spectrum are acknowledging what they used to only whisper: The old paradigm is dying.
Naftali Bennett of the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) Party states that “land for peace” is dead and advocates annexing a portion of the West Bank. Yair Shamir of Yisrael Beytenu says that regardless of Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech in 2009 endorsing a two-state solution, the Likud never endorsed a Palestinian state. Even Meretz recently acknowledged that Oslo is dead.
To give up hope for peace is not to choose war. Egypt’s present and Jordan’s future indicate how little is guaranteed by a treaty; the Palestinian present shows that we can have quiet even in the face of stalemate. What Israelis now want is quiet, and a future.
The demise of the peace addiction is no cause for celebration; it is merely cause for relief. There is something exhausting about living a life of pretense; with the death of illusion comes the possibility of shaping a future. After a new government is formed, a genuine leader could actually lead Israelis into a “what next” conversation. Deciding what comes next, now that we sadly know that the idea of “land for peace” is dead, will not be easy. Israel could make wise decisions or terrible mistakes.
Israel is likely to make much better choices if it is joined in its hard-earned realism by forces outside the country, too. Now that Israelis are getting honest, the question is whether the international community — and American Jews — will follow suit.
The Washington Post, for example, recently acknowledged in an editorial that Netanyahu’s zoning approval for new settlements “is hardly the ‘almost fatal blow’ to a two-state solution that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described.” U.N. Security Council members need to “press Mr. Abbas to stop using settlements as an excuse for intransigence,” the Post said.
But what about American Jewish leaders? They will likely find admitting that “land for peace” is dying no less difficult than anyone else. Will they listen carefully to what the Israeli electorate, across the spectrum, is saying? I hope so. Loving someone means helping them to fashion a future that is possible, not harboring an exhausted illusion that can only yield pain and disappointment. The same is true with loving Israel.
Daniel Gordis is president of the Shalem Foundation and senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Israel. A version of this piece first appeared in the Jerusalem Post..